On his blog, Business, Bee Keepers and Pork Bellies, J. Stewart III (!) recently wrote about some of the things he felt he needed to pass on to his son--the things he was here for, basically. We change diapers, we feed our babies, we even cut their hair every once in a while. Actually. But what else are we here for? What can we teach our kids to make their lives fuller and to get to watch them grow up to be amazing people? When they make it, what will justify the mansion they give us, in other words?
I actually loved Stewart's list, and even if it is just his own personal list, I feel I can steal some of what he calls "Fatherhood Influencers To Pass Down." Here are some of the ones I happily stole:
I love Legos. You can use your imagination while you play this, which is a pretty rare thing with toys. With most toys, you press a button and something happens. The box tells you it teaches your kids the beauty of cause-and-effect. Great, but how about a more open-ended approach? You put this piece above this one and you get a house. You add this piece in the back and now it's a train! Add a couple of small pieces and you have a dog!
2. A Dog
We now have a fifteen-year-old Pit Bull in the house. It would be nice if I knew they'd grow up remembering the old lady (or even her older brother who recently died), but the most important thing is that they'll grow up loving dogs, unlike their father who couldn't be in the same room with dogs until he was forced to live with a roommate who had two. Now that I've turned into a dog-lover, it's sad for me to think about running away from them all these years, and I hope my kids turn out differently because they got to know Buddy and Gingee.
On the one hand, I understand Kindle. It's a changing world, after all. I've moved from vinyl to CDs, and now I'm moving all my music, along with my documents, my pictures, and my Internet bookmarks all the way up to The Cloud. So why should I keep books like some kind of hoarder? Kindle makes sense. It's light, and it has page-turning graphics, and you can take a library with you when you travel... I know. But books are real. Books have different sizes and different colors. They have a scent. They turn brown when they're old. Friends borrow them and sometimes bring them back. They're a part of your house, not just a way to pass the time. Sure, if you can't see well and you need big fonts, or if you live in a tiny New York apartment with no room for books, I'll look the other way. Otherwise, teach your kids there's magical stuff under the cloud.
4. Learning Multiple Languages
I speak Hebrew to my kids. I don't know if they'll ever get to use it, but at least they grow up with a global perspective and the understanding that English is not the only language in the world, because the US is not the only country in the world, and American culture is not the only culture worth knowing in the world.
5. Appreciation of Music
My kids are growing up Hipster, I'm afraid. I don't play kids' music in the house, because I prefer adult music. I also don't listen to adult music that would offend my inner child, so my kids should be fine. And after all, is there better kids' music than The Flaming Lips?
Then there are some Fatherhood Influences I can add:
6. Be Cool!
Like all kids, mine go through extremes. I try to use every opportunity to remind them whatever they're crying about is not a big deal. At the same time I pretend I never get stressed out... Hopefully, stress in our family will be like the family nose. My grandfather had a full potato. My father had more of a red potato. I have a round nose, but not that potato-ish. My kids, if everything goes according to plan, will retain nothing of the potato family legacy: neither potato-nose nor debilitating stress.
7. Dance When You Want to Dance
There are people who never dance in public. There are people who dance in public because they want the world to see them as the kind of people who dance in public. Both groups look at others for confirmation and acceptance. I want my kids to dance when they want to dance, to sing when they want to sing, and to sit and do nothing when they want nothing more than to sit and do nothing. I want to teach my kids that happiness and acceptance can only come from within.
8. Question Everything
My father and I can't agree on anything when it comes to politics, but I'll always be grateful for the many times he reminded me to question the motives of my political heroes and to see a bigger, more objective picture. Even if he's wrong on every single issue. I hope I can teach my kids to grow up able to acknowledge their own subjective prejudices as well as the non-existence of absolute truth.
Kids can be cruel and kids can be great. Most kids are both at different times to some extent. But if in the end my kids are mean to other kids, if they're cruel, if they make others cry and ashamed of themselves, then I have failed as a parent.
10. Be Honest
I've recently turned my Facebook profile public, realizing that as long as my online privacy depended on others, nothing was ever truly private. Knowing I have no privacy is actually a very liberating feeling, because now I don't feel I have to hide behind an anonymous persona, and I learn to express my true self in an honest way. My kids will grow up with endless opportunities for "identity management." It's my job to teach them no persona is as fun and rewarding as their real ones.
I'll be happy to see more fatherhood or parenting influences and lessons. And also read Stewart's original post for more examples.